Culture

6 Danish Expressions You Need to Know

Danish expressions, or Danish idioms, are an important part of understanding the Danish language. Grammar and vocabulary are important of course, but to be truly fluent in a language, knowing the turns-of-phrase that get used regularly is a key element of modern conversation.

Danish idioms, like idioms in many languages, don’t really make sense when translated directly. So we’re sharing six of our favorite and frequently-used Danish expressions, what they mean in direct translation, and what they actually mean.

Many Danish expressions have animals in them, harkening back to more pastoral days. They’re all also quite old-fashioned; these definitely aren’t the expressions to use when you want to sound like a young, hip Dane. But then again, what idioms are young and hip? Learning the idiomatic aspects of a language is really a way to look into the language and culture’s history.

These funny Danish expressions are simple ones that typically have an equivalent in English, although the phrasing or tone may be slightly different.

Here are six Danish expressions you need to know:

Det blæser en halv pelican

 

Danish expression

Det blæser en halv pelican

 

English translation

It blows half a pelican

 

What it actually means

Danes say that “it blows half a pelican” to indicate that it is extremely windy

 
 

 

Har håret/skægget i postkassen

 

Danish expression

Håret/skægget i postkassen

 

English translation

Hair/beard in the mailbox

 

What it actually means

To be caught in the act of doing something wrong. The English equivalent would be, “caught red-handed”

 
 
 

At gå som katten om den varme grød

 

Danish expression

At gå som katten om den varme grød

 

English translation

To walk like a cat around hot porridge

 

What it actually means

The English equivalent for this phrase is “to beat around the bush.” It means to talk around, but not directly about, a topic

 
 

 

Det er ingen ko på isen

 

Danish expression

Det er ingen ko på isen

 

English translation

There is no cow on the ice

 

What it actually means

There is no problem!

 
 
 

Så er den ged barberet

 

Danish expression

Så er den ged barberet

 

English translation

The goat is shaved

 

What it actually means

When your to-do list or long work week is done, “the goat is shaved!” It means that the work is done and has a slightly celebratory aspect to its meaning

 
 

 

Klap lige hesten

 

Danish expression

Klap lige hesten

 

English translation

Pat the horse

 

What it actually means

This phrase is used when you want to tell someone to relax and slow down. The English equivalent is “hold your horses,” but the Danish version is considered slightly more patronizing

 

Want more ways to learn Danish, even if you’re busy? Find out how! If you’re not sure how to get over your “language perfectionism,” we have some tips.

 

Illustrations by Freya August McOmish.